Democrat calls for investigation into gas prices

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, joined Bob Schieffer live on CBS' "Face the Nation" broadcast from Washington, D.C. Sunday, April 24, 2011. Blumenthal said he wants a grand jury to uncover potential wrongdoing that may be causing the escalation of gas prices.
CBS News photo

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Sunday called for a grand jury investigation into possible wrongdoing in relation to rising gasoline prices, and urged the government to actively fight "the kind of illegal speculation and trading and hedge fund activity that may be driving prices up."

In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," Blumenthal commended President Obama for forming a task force aimed at rooting out fraud or manipulation in the oil and gas markets, but argued that stronger actions were required.

"The problem is it is not investigatory, it is more to monitor and follow the developments," Blumenthal said of the task force to CBS' Bob Schieffer. "I commend and applaud the president for focusing on this issue, but I think there really needs to be an investigation involving, for example, subpoenas and compulsory process which I used as attorney general in similar investigations."

With gas prices nationwide averaging close to $4 per gallon, the average American will pay about $750 more for gas this year, per car, CBS News' Bill Whitaker reports, and some 75 percent of Americans say they are now or soon will be pinching pennies over pump prices.

"There needs to be very possibly a grand jury to uncover the potential wrongdoing," Blumenthal said.

When asked about a recent CBS News poll indicating that 75 percent of the American people disapprove of the Congress, the Connecticut Democrat said people had a right to be upset.

"If you're out in America the way I am... you really hear how people are still hurting, struggling to stay in their homes, to find jobs, to make ends meet," he said. "They have a right to be angry at Washington - because Washington hasn't been listening. On gasoline prices, for example. The price of gasoline in the state of Connecticut has risen from $2.99 last year to $4.14 right now."

Blumenthal said the Justice Department should be the leading player in making sure that oil and gas companies were not illegally speculating or trading on the matter.

"The Justice Department should take the lead, seize this moment and send a message, a very strong deterrent message, that this country will not tolerate the kind of illegal speculation and trading and hedge fund activity that may be driving prices up," Blumenthal said. "Just to give you one fact: The amount of trading and hedge fund activity, the energy positions, are at an all-time high in this country's history, up 64 percent from just a few years ago. And the indicia of potential illegal activity, whether civil or criminal, I think certainly justify the Department of Justice investigation immediately and comprehensively right now."

Rep. Joe Griffin (R-Ill.) told Schieffer that while "if there's something illegal going on, we need to look into that and deal with it," he didn't think a grand jury would be able to fix the country's energy crisis.

"We've been talking about energy independence for decades," he said in an interview on "Face the Nation" Sunday. "The problem is a lot of the people who talk about energy independence then pursue policies that are counter to that. We can't talk about energy independence and then say, 'But you can't drill here. You can't drill there... You start excluding all of the different options."

"There are a lot of things that we should have been doing over the years and there are different obstacles - whether it's drilling in the Gulf or whether it's drilling in ANWR, we have a lot of reserves," he said. "Ultimately we need to be energy independent."